Article in Brief: I discuss the issues with lifetime warranties in the outdoors world and offer an anecdote about a recent warranty experience with Smith Optics. Then I call on you, the reader to submit experiences you've had with lifetime warranties. You can do this either via comment or email, and I'll add your perspective to the article. Enjoy!
Lifetime warranties are a contentious topic these days. There’s a whole range of people buying & using outdoor gear. Some use it lightly, and some use it hard…really hard. Things get interesting as manufacturers typically reserve the right to determine if the product failed due to a manufacturing error, or if it was due to normal wear and tear. This is where the grey zone occurs: a consumer might make a warranty claim, but the manufacturer dismisses it as a result of normal use.
Recently I had an experience with Smith Optics that got me thinking about the fine line that companies walk – making customers happy and standing behind their products vs. recognizing blatant attempts to use a generous warranty policy. REI’s policy changes are a direct response to this conundrum. Anyway, back to the Smith Optics example. I had an older pair (4+ years) of their sunglasses, and a year or two ago the nose pad detached from the frame. Obviously a really minor issue, but sunglasses are surprisingly uncomfortable/lopsided when missing a nose pad. I decided the cheapest option would be to ship the glasses back to them and simply offer to pay for the replacement nosepad.
I had previously read about Smith’s good warranty reputation and was interested to see what type of response I got back from the company. A couple days later I got a voicemail saying that Smith had received my glasses and due to scratching on the lenses they weren’t covered under warranty. I then had the option to purchase a new pair at a significant discount.
Wait, that’s not what I wanted at all. First off, these glasses had been down the Grand Canyon twice and it’s virtually impossible not to scratch the lenses in this type of environment. The glasses were otherwise in perfect shape. Secondly, I was willing to pay just to have a little nosepiece glued on. It took three calls to communicate to the warranty department that all I really wanted was a new nosepiece, and eventually they said they’d look around for a spare. I was a little exasperated, but hopeful that I might be able to get my glasses back slightly repaired. A week later I open a box from them and find a new pair of frames with my old lenses inside. Whoah! I assume they took a pair of frames waiting for prescription lenses and put my slightly scratched lenses inside. Works for me! I quickly forgot about the hassle of the return process, and was super impressed at how Smith went out of their way to please an obscure request from a customer. The customer comes first, and that makes customers for life.
That’s what this post is about. Not all warranties are created equal. For example, a scratched lens apparently voids Smith’s warranty, but exceptions can be made. I’m reaching out to the outdoors community to share some stories of your experiences with companies that boast lifetime warranties. How was the customer service? Did they completely back their product? Any weird caveats? A lot factors go into the purchase process, and the warranty is definitely up there for me.
Go to the bottom of the post to either post your experience in the comments or email them & I’ll add it to this page. My goal is to create a little repository of unbiased feedback on lifetime warranty policies. Enjoy, and I hope you contribute!
Warranty Policy in Brief: They call it the Ironclad Guarantee. If you don’t like it for any reason send it back and they’ll take care of you. Damage from wear and tear can be repaired at a reasonable rate.
Author: I had two bathing suits from them that I practically live in. They were in great shape, but the backside blew out in both of them… Filled out a return slip and two weeks later I had an electronic gift card to their online store. Fantastic service.
Warranty Policy in Brief: Smith has a lifetime warranty that lasts the “lifetime” of the product.
Author: I sent in an older pair of sunglasses for a missing nosepiece. I had to really push them to look for a new nosepiece rather than buying a new pair at a discount, but I eventually got a really nice rep who offered to look around. Ended up getting back a whole new frame with my lenses inside. Good experience overall.
Warranty Policy in Brief: They guarantee their products to the original owner. Includes defects in materials and workmanship.
Author: Boaters always hear about Kokatat’s unbelievable service and the legendary drysuit replacement if they determine a Gore-Tex suit is delaminating. While I haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing that specifically, I send it my suit almost every year for spot testing & patches. One year they determined the neoprene cuffs on my gaskets were worn down and replaced them all for free. Pretty awesome.
Warranty Policy in Brief: The 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. Yes, they aren’t lifetime anymore, but they used to be. Now it’s just for one year from purchase.
Author: REI has always been super understanding, no questions asked. One of the few warranties where I deal with live people instead of mailing items, but maybe that’s just me.
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Don't forget to leave your warranty experiences in the comments, and I'll add them to the article.